FEMA is unable to measure funding benefits

Agency official says billions spent on homeland security since 2002 have made country safer, but admits FEMA has no way to definitively assess the improvement.

A top Federal Emergency Management Agency official on Tuesday said he believed that $29 billion in Homeland Security funds spent since 2002 had made the nation better prepared for a terrorist attack, but admitted his agency had no way of definitively assessing the improvement.

Testifying before the House Homeland Security Emergency Communications Subcommittee, FEMA Deputy Administrator Timothy Manning said although his agency had conducted a "look-back" over the last 18 months to determine what had been done with the money, the survey only confirmed that FEMA and other Homeland Security divisions had never asked grant recipients to measure the benefits of the funding.

"Therefore, existing data tells us very little about our return on investment," Manning testified. He said FEMA was collecting detailed information to get a more accurate picture of the nation's readiness. Committee members expressed frustration with FEMA's progress on assessing the effectiveness of Homeland Security spending.

Although Congress mandated the development of a comprehensive system for measuring emergency response programs three years ago, "it still seems to be a work in progress," said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

When Manning estimated the cost of the look-back at $5 million, Homeland Security Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response Subcommittee Chairman Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said: "Free advice: For $5 million, I think we can do a little better."

Thompson, Cuellar and other subcommittee members also took Manning to task for a FEMA policy shift last month in which the agency barred the use of new Homeland Security funding to maintain equipment acquired with old grants.

Thompson blamed the change on the "bean counters" at OMB, and said it had left state and local funding applicants in a difficult position.

"If you keep moving the ball, can you imagine what our state and local governments are going through?" he asked.

Thompson and Cuellar warned Manning that the committee was on course to approve legislation sponsored by Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, D-Ohio, that would reverse the policy shift.

Kathy Crandall, the director of homeland security for Columbus, Ohio, said states and cities across the country had counted on using new grant money to maintain the billions of dollars in homeland security infrastructure that they have been putting in place over the last seven years.